Helen Lake – Icefields Parkway

This was recommended by my guidebook as one of the best day hikes in Banff National Park. It’s a short drive north from Lake Louise village. The parking lot is quite easy to miss so double check your directions before heading out. The 1st section is heavily wooded with a never ending stretches of tree roots across the trail.

After a slow and steady climb we stopped to tie our boots and had a helluva scare as a lynx walked across our path. We had both thought it maybe a bear cub which meant momma bear must be close but to our surprise a full grown lynx sauntered out on to the trail. They’re extremely shy and it was quite a shock to have one come so close and so lazily walk away down the trail barely paying us any mind. It came as such a shock neither of us were able to get a picture of the fuzz ball.

Continuing along the trail you are greeted with a few views of the tail end of Bow Lake and the Icefields Parkway as well. Before reaching the steep switchbacks we came across a large section of broken trees recently snapped trees presumably crushed by a recent winter avalanche. The smell of fresh pine trees in this section was amazingly intoxicating. Immediately after this there is a series of short steep switchbacks to reach a saddle and reach a wide meadow on the other side. This meadow is over 2kms long and 1km wide and one of the nicest you’ll see in the Canadian Rockies. The trail follows Helen Creek up the meadow to reach Helen Lake. The meadow is really stunning and right before you reach the lake there is a stream crossing over Helen Creek with a beautiful cascade.

pond reflection

After crossing the creek its just a short distance more until you reach Helen Lake. At this point you like us will likely start to see many very large, fat Hoary Marmots that have gotten good at begging for food from tourists. We stumbled upon a group of Japanese hikers that were busy feeding this giant marmot treats (please don’t feed them). I was amazed that the marmot licked their boots!

As you continue on, views of the Bow Valley behind you get better and better. Helen Creek glistens in the sun as it flows down the middle of the meadow towards the valley bottom. In late June and the month of July wildflowers are blooming everywhere.Stay on the trail so not to disturb their fragile growth.

along Helen Lake Trail

Keep hiking up through the meadows until you reach Helen Lake. Once you arrive at Helen Lake take the extra effort to continue up the headwall which is another 280ms or so. Views from the headwall towards Dolomite Peak, Cirque Peak, Mount Hector, Wapta Icefields, Bow Valley and Helen Lake are stunning. This is an excellent spot to have your lunch before turning back.

Helen Lake

Expect to see very large Hoary Marmots on the top of the headwall. These Marmots have certainly seen thousands of hikers and I’m always surprised at how they make you feel like you’re the first. If you still have more energy you can scramble to the top of nearby Cirque Peak or explore the flats towards Dolomite Pass and Lake Katherine. Cirque Peak looming behind you is another 600ms in elevation, allow 2 more hours return to the summit.

Distance: 7.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 1600 feet